With the TV season drawing to a close, my mind has been on a couple of excellent finales and the renewal of a series I'm quite enjoying (not ubiquitous, I realize). In general, it seems folks look forward to the next season of TV show they enjoy more than a sequel to a film they've enjoyed. Film sequels tend to be regarded with skepticism, and often, rightly so. It seems game sequels are regarded in the same way, but I'm starting to think it might be more accurate to think of them more like TV seasons.
Games are software, soup to nuts, and I think if the audience at large would think of them in that context first and foremost, we'd be better off. Some developers, e.g. Valve and Criterion, make it patently obvious they think of their games as software, with frequent updates and iteration. But if we have to think about them in terms of other media, game sequel as another season seems the most appropriate.
Obviously, some games lend themselves to this comparison readily, such as annual sports franchises or Telltale and other's episodic games. But this comparison seems to make sense for other sequels as well. Film sequels often feel pandering or unnecessary. Some equal or surpass their originals, but I'd say it's probably around 10-20% that do so. With games, the odds are far better. I'd say you've got at least even odds, if not better.
There's a mountain of examples, but far more think of Warcraft II than Warcraft. Thief II is often cited as the best in the series. Between Fallout and Fallout 2, folks seem split about 50/50. I'll say that Burnout: Paradise is the best entry in the series, hands down. Halo, Fable, Civilization; the list goes on and on. There's obviously contention and disagreement, but with film sequels, consensus that it's "not as good as the original" is the status quo.
Additionally, games have a large business/development incentive to create sequels that films do not. A great deal of the cost of any game is in the creation of the core technology (engine, toolset, pipelines, etc.). Sequels can hopefully avoid a lot of the core tech cost and focus on content.
With film, there's little connection between the cost of making an original and making its sequel. Pirates of the Caribbean more than doubled its production costs between its first and third entries. But game sequels ought to be cheaper than originals, unless the developer is doing something completely daft. I'd be absolutely shocked if Bioshock 2 cost anywhere as much as Bioshock and its production time was certainly shorter.
There's lots of awful, pandering game sequels out there, don't get me wrong. And there are some long running series that should probably be put out to pasture. But unlike films, game sequels seem to surpass their originals at a decent rate. I think everyone would benefit if game sequels were approached with a little less derision and a little optimism, as we often approach new seasons of TV.
Or maybe I'm just drunk thinking about Lost's final season. Quite possibly.